Arian Foster Should Only be a Zero RB Pick

With ADP still an unknown, there are reasons to be concerned about Foster’s ability to return value should it rise too high. For a look at why he might have value if he ADP stays suppressed, check out Ben Gretch’s take here.

The Miami Dolphins signed Arian Foster to a one year deal. By the simple fact that Foster has signed with any team, his ADP should rise. But I’d hesitate to even take him in anything prior to Round 7. The reason is plain and simple: there’s simply too much risk taking Foster in the high leverage rounds, where you want to hit on your picks as much as possible.

Foster’s ADP

In Best-Ball leagues last year, Foster’s ADP was inside the first three rounds until he tore his groin and word got out that he would miss some time during the regular season.1

So where can we expect Foster’s ADP to climb this year? Currently he is going around pick 11.09, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant bump as people realize Foster should be the lead back in Miami heading into the season. Once this happens, then if we give him last year’s pre-injury third round ADP as Houston’s lead back, and penalize him for his age and injury, he could still be going in the first six rounds — and that’s too early. Here’s why.

Injury Risk

Foster clearly carries significant injury risk, having missed three or more games in four of the last five seasons. According to Sports Injury Predictor, Foster hasn’t had a fully healthy season even in his 16 game seasons, and carries a 41 percent chance of being injured during the upcoming season. That’s far too much risk for the early, high leverage rounds.

Foster has played in only 67.5 percent of all games over the last five years, which equates to 10.8 games per season over that span. Obviously there is going to be variation, and he could play all 16 games, but there’s no guarantee of that.

So while I agree with Dr. Budoff that the specific Achilles tendon injury isn’t overly concerning, there certainly has to be some doubt as to the cumulative wear and tear a plethora of injuries have taken on Foster throughout the years, and his overall susceptibility to injury.

Age

Foster enters his age 30 season, which is classically seen as a number associated with the age cliff. While there are certainly counterexamples, it does become more likely with every passing year that an individual back starts to, or even significantly declines.

To give you an idea of what can be expected from Foster, I used the RotoViz Screener App to query running backs in their age 28 or 29 year old seasons who were UDFAs, and looked at their year-on-year change in PPR points per game in their N+1 season (so, their 29 or 30 year old season). This even slightly benefits Foster, because we will be looking at his age 29 season from last year, yet comparing him to similar players in their age 28 season. Here’s the list of players that fit this filter who scored at least 10 PPR points per game in those seasons:

PLAYER SEAS WT DRAFT AGE PPR.Qry1 PPR.Qry1.N1 YOY
Priest Holmes 2002 213 329 29 31.8 27.9 87.7%
Arian Foster 2014 224 329 28 21.4 19.8 92.5%
Priest Holmes 2001 213 329 28 21.2 31.8 150.0%
Danny Woodhead 2013 200 329 28 14.2 4.1 28.9%
Fred Jackson 2009 215 329 28 13.6 11.7 86.0%
Pierre Thomas 2013 215 329 29 13.3 11.2 84.2%
Joique Bell 2014 220 329 28 13.3 8.1 60.9%
Tony Richardson 2000 238 329 29 13.1 8.4 64.1%
Kenny Watson 2007 214 329 29 13 1.3 10.0%
Earnest Graham 2008 215 329 28 12.5 2.9 23.2%
Dominic Rhodes 2008 203 329 29 12.2 0 0.0%
Jermaine Wiggins 2004 260 329 29 11.8 8.8 74.6%
Fred Jackson 2010 215 329 29 11.7 21.3 182.1%
Willie Parker 2008 209 329 28 10.4 4.4 42.3%

Only two of the fourteen backs saw a year-on-year improvement, with an average of 70.5 percent of the prior year total. Even if we restrict it to players who scored more than Foster’s 19.8 PPR points per game last year, that leave us with two of three failing to meet the prior year level. In other words, Foster’s odds of putting up 19.8 PPR points per game are slim.

Last Year’s Numbers Are Inflated

There’s reason to believe Foster’s 19.8 points per game are a bit inflated. First, he has never caught more than 4.1 receptions per game, until suddenly last year in a small four game sample size, he caught 5.5 balls per game. He also averaged 0.5 receiving TDs per game, which beats his career best of 0.385 the year before in 2014. Prior to that, he never had a receiving TD rate higher than 0.154 TDs per game.

It certainly seems he was the beneficiary of small sample size, and that his 19.8 PPR point per game number is too high to begin with. But there’s more.

Coaching Risk

I actually think that, while Foster is set to be a potential workhorse back when healthy, there is cause for concern. Last year, the Bill O’Brien coached Houston Texans averaged 9.4 percent more plays than league average. Now Foster moves to an Adam Gase coached team. Last year Gase, as offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, saw his team run 0.6 percent fewer plays than league average.

If we break this down into runs and passes, we see that the rushing workload remains similar, but the passing numbers, which are more valuable on a per-opportunity basis, decrease by over 15 percent on a relative basis, and nearly 17 percent on an absolute basis.

vs Avg Pass Rush
O’Brien 108.2% 112.0%
Gase 91.4% 111.0%
Relative Change 84.5% 99.1%

And this is despite the Bears facing poor game script most of the year. Imagine if they faced a more positive game script, what those passing numbers would drop to.

This of course, isn’t showing target share numbers, but they were similar at the RB position between Gase and O’Brien. Gase backs saw 20 percent market share to backs compared to 18 percent for O’Brien in 2015. Combining the market share and plays per game numbers gives about a six percent reduction in running back targets for Gase backs.

Time Share Risk

And all this is assuming Foster is the unquestioned starter. But what if he splits more carries than he has in the past, making way for second-year back Jay Ajayi to get some valuable experience? Or cedes targets in the passing game to 2016 third-round pick Kenyan Drake? Certainly those are possible outcomes, and has to be weighed into the risk calculus as well.

Conclusion

Foster carries too much risk for where he could end up at in ADP. In Foster we have a guy who scored 19.8 PPR points per game last year but who also:

  1. Likely benefited from positive variance in the passing game
  2. Should see a decline in passing game opportunity based off coaching trends
  3. Winds up in a cohort of players that have, by and large, seen a dropoff in per-game production
  4. Averaged only 10.8 games per season over the last five years, and 8.3 over the last three seasons, and
  5. Could be part of a time share at running back

Drafting him combines all of these risk factors into a player who shouldn’t be drafted in the high leverage rounds. Yes, he has league winning upside if everything aligns. But he also has league losing downside in those first six rounds, and the downside tail of the distribution of his potential outcomes is certainly heavier than the upside tail. Simply put, pick a safer player unless you get him in Round 7 or later.

  1. I cannot get 2015 ADP numbers solely prior to his injury, but I can get ADP numbers for the whole preseason, which includes the portion of the preseason that occurred post-injury. His ADP was 34.2, meaning it was certainly higher than that prior to his injury  (back)

RotoDoc

Co-Owner and Editor-in-Chief at RotoViz. Mathematics Ph.D. 3x qualifier for the DraftKings NASCAR Main Event.
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